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Bologna—the antidote to the tourist trap

Created date

February 22nd, 2011

In Bologna, Italy, sitting with your espresso in the splendid Piazza Maggiore under the north Italian sun, you can watch the Bolognese go about their business and unlike many travel destinations note that their business isn t you. They have other fish to fry. Sometimes literally. Bologna is a great food town. Besides excellent restaurants in the city where tortellini is an art, you can enjoy the open air market stands along Via Clavature. If you travel a lot, or a little for that matter, you may grow tired of places shined up and puffed up for tourists. Where is real life, you wonder? One place that has it is Bologna. You can feel, in the purposeful atmosphere, that business is being conducted. Bologna University, the oldest in Europe, is folded into the fabric of the city and students give the lift of youth to street life.

Did you know? Bologna, Italy, is known for its wonderful cuisine, including the famous dish spaghetti alla bolognese. The university library generously allows visitors into its reading room, a cathedral to learning high-ceilinged, calm, and serious. I sat at one of the long tables and read about its history in an English language brochure. Still poking about, I came onto the university s Museo de Anatomi, remnant of an age before the x-ray, when Rome forbade dissection, but the beautifully rendered wax pieces here revealed to students what s under the skin. Surgeries took place in the university s Anatomical Theatre, now decidedly for tourists rather than treatment. This handsome room, a gallery of seats surrounding a marble table, has paneled walls enlivened by wood carvings of serious men. Before leaving the university I happened on several women singers running through their numbers for a concert later in the day. No one minded my taking a seat in the back row as opera-trained voices almost tore the frescoes off the ceiling. Strolling is virtually weather-proof in this city, where nearly 40 kilometers of covered arcades line the streets. By medieval edict, their roofs are high enough for a man to ride a horse beneath them. No such riders now. The building forming the west side of Piazza Maggiore houses both the Collezioni Communale d Arte (enjoyable paintings; spectacular furniture) and the interesting little museum commemorating mid-20th century artist Giorgio Morandi, who lived quietly in Bologna but whose endlessly inventive still lifes are known worldwide. Luxury goods in upscale stores here are as likely to be bought by home folks as visitors, making for good window shopping and purchasing. Our Bologna luxury was where we stayed: the upscale and totally delightful Hotel Orologio, just off Piazza Maggiore. Our suite had blue damask walls, a green marble bath, and a little sitting room with printed velvet couch. Visitors are welcome in Bologna, but it s a pleasure not to be the focal point of everyone s endeavors.

Travel tips

  • Best time to go: spring or fall. Bologna is hot in summer, cold in winter.
  • Costs: moderate to high. Wide range of hotels available through websites like www.travelplan.it/bologna. Splurge at www.arthotels.it (Hotel Orologio).
  • Train service: is cheap. A taxi to your hotel costs more than train fare between cities.
  • Local advice: the i (tourist information office) is always helpful, located on north side of Piazza Maggiore.

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